I’ve been working on taking a large part of my novel in process and rewriting it in the voice and point of view of my subject family’s patriarch. I mean the grandfather of the family. His point of view, the history of suffering and God-mandated hard work and the planting of trees so that others might benefit from shade, is the most interesting of the voices in my head lately.
I’ll give you a sample in a moment. First, to the subject line of this post. I don’t mean the founders of America. I mean the founders of our families. Our grandparents and parents; our tree of the knowledge of love and sacrifice.
An hour ago, I turned on The Daily Show and watched John Stewart begin his nightly diatribe on the topic of impending national doom. I saw the president speak in a way that could only serve to feed our unremitting anxiety. I turned it off. It was making me sad and sick at heart. And I thought to myself it is a merciful God who has given so many Americans full and productive lives of building a nation of dreams, but took them to Himself before they saw such a day of purblind governmental stupidity. It’s too bad that so many more – who’ve worked just as hard – are forced to see it now.
I believe my grandparents would be outraged and ashamed that Washington has driven us to this point. And that our leaders are willing to leap from behind the wheel and watch the whole thing just go rolling over a cliff. For nothing but asinine and petty politics. I believe they would feel their sacrifices – those of their generation including the dead and bereaved of many wars – have been entirely betrayed.
What the hell happened to Yes We Can? How did We The People so completely screw up the simple yet desperately difficult task of voting for responsible people that now we have no one in government with the sense God gave a block of wood? There is nobody in the capital city able to stand up and say We are going to make this right, do the next right thing, at the very least the job we were hired to do. Don’t worry, we are competent and the system works. Nope, every last one of them regardless of party are determined to prove the opposite, that they are worthless and unworthy, corrupt and incompetent.
I am reminded of a line from the series Deadwood, in which the character Wolcott says:
I am a sinner who does not expect forgiveness, but I am not a government official.
Anyway, here’s some Grandpa. From two different sections of text. He’s not my Grandpa or yours, but maybe we can find some truth in him.
I brought my family west in 1942. We dragged up and rolled out of Joplin following a trail of postcards sent by a cousin on my wife’s side, a witless unwashed little bastard who had come ahead in search of work. I tried to talk her out of it, said we had friends and kin and possibilities and the Lord seemed pleased to see us grow where we were planted, but she would not be diverted. Those postcards were full of promises and hope. California was a land of unlimited harvest, he said, where for practically nothing a man could claim a piece of land as wide and rich as his dreams, and have no one to argue with but the bees.
I remember how that long damn road across New Mexico went on and on like the devil himself had laid it with a taut line leading west out of Texas into hell. We had a pickup truck, a 1937 Chevrolet with no air in it and not much air outside either. We dragged a little two wheel trailer behind us for our possibles, making six wheels in all and between there and here every tire blew out or ran flat more than once.
When I came out of the bank they were waiting for me in the little park across the street and up the block. The sun had filled the day with shining. I had my old leather valise in my hand and the papers were in it. I put it against my chest and gave it a pat for good luck because it held the instrument of all our hopes. Standing on the corner, I could see them up the street, my family. They were waiting in the little plaza. John was hanging like a monkey on the muzzle of the antique Army gun, swinging like it was made to be a toy and not a relic of death from the Mexican war. Lillian was sitting on a bench watching him play, holding our baby. I saw how small they looked compared to the buildings, the trees and the California sky. But I felt pretty small myself, in relation to the contract I had signed. Small against the work we’d have to do to pay the note, to coax good fruit from serious and stoic trees. But the grass was green in the little park and the flag on the pole next to the canon was earnest, and the sky was very blue. The little town of Cortina – our new home – sat around us faintly humming with the engine of people in an early summer afternoon. We were strangers here entirely, but with many friends we just hadn’t met yet. And a loan had been made to me in good faith. So in my mind – to very young Jim Geister, far from home and his people – anything was probable and everything was good.